The Trials of a Race Officer, by JD Miles

The ramblings of the Assistant Race Officer at the 2018 Blaze National Championships (courtesy of Sailing Southwest)


The Blaze National Championships took place at my local club, North Devon Yacht Club, in Instow, on the 8th-10th June, 2018, and I was appointed to assist the highly experienced Ian Bullock, a RYA National Race Officer with bundles of experience for the duration of the Championships.

To ensure NDYC offered the very best assistance and support for the Blaze fleet, we assembled our ‘A team’ of enthusiastic volunteers on the Race Support, Patrol Boat and Beach teams!

We promised the Blaze fleet that the wind always blows at NDYC. So, even with a summer ‘high’ sitting over much of the UK, a fleet of 50 Blazes battled the busy roads and holiday traffic to find their way to the North Devon coast.

Thursday evening arrived with registrations and GDPR opt-in certification. The race team were busy studying weather patterns. Easterly winds were forecast, combined with sea breezes from the W-NW – not good! But never fear, this is the North Coast of Devon and therefore the wind will blow!

So the big day dawned – Friday morning – sunshine – Cloud – no water – and no wind. However the locals among us weren’t worried. ‘Just wait, the wind will come with the tide!’ And anyway, the visitors needed to see where the sand banks and rocks were before going afloat. The full race team assembled for a briefing with the Headman, Ian. Race procedures and plans were discussed and duties allocated. Alright, here we go.

The start time approached, Ian expertly guided the committee boat skipper to the preferred race area and the fleet were instructed to get afloat. Instow beach, where all the boats had assembled, is opposite the Appledore shore giving a 10-15 min sail to the start area down wind in 4-5kn wind… 4-5 kn?? Surely we will see more than that in North Devon! Thankfully, the cloud cover hung around long enough to stop the NW sea breeze killing the race.

A triangle course was set to avoid rocks before high tide on the North Shore.

Look at to find the race tracks and replays.

49 Blazes made it to the start of Race 1. It was surely wonderful sight for the tourists on the quayside as a mass of red sails meandered across the scenic estuary.

BANG! The 5-minute gun boomed from the committee boat. Oh no, the poor RO was covered in debris from the deck cannon, and the sailor’s ears were ringing. It was the first time the crew had worked together on the committee boat, but all was fairly calm and efficient. The sailors, who had been warned they were starting with a 1-2 kn tide under them, were not so calm. BANG, BANG – general recall. Now going deaf, the sailors started to learn, but on the second attempt, with Uniform flag flying, still 4 boats were early starters receiving UFD (go look it up!). Finally though, the race was away and the twin objectives of a fair start, and even split on the beat were achieved. 

No time for self congratulation, that was only race 1 and we had 2 more to get into the tidal window. So, fast turnaround – orange flag up – 10 min, Blaze flag, BANG! 5 min, 1 min, commentary recorded on any boats approaching the line (U flying). BANG – start and a good one! Slack water and almost all spread evenly down the line, 2m back – A RO’s dream! With the square course set, and the 5-6kn wind still present, a happy fleet headed off for race 2.

Race 3 was set as a sausage course with a leward gate. This would challenge the sailors into making a good decision with regards to tide and wind strength.

Start 3 was a real mental challenge for the sailors too. What goes up must come down, and that very much applies to the North Devon tide, which is the 3rd largest in the country. Now the water was flowing out of the estuary, but most competitors failed to make the adjustment. The start was, shall we say interesting, with most of the fleet allowing for tide under them. BANG! The start gun boomed once more, yet the line was hardly busy… in fact many of the boats were nowhere near the line! This might’ve been one of the worst starts yet, with some competitors taking 2 minutes to cross the start line! I’ll admit, we were watching the clock closely with a 4-minute limit set! So ended day 1.

That meant that in the first day of the Championships, the mark layers laid 3 different courses and ran 3 races in 3 hours – 3 is the magic number. A superb effort all around.

Day 2 was different – the wind started easterly, then sea breeze, westerly, northerly, NE …. Variable 1-6kn. The committee boat used every inch of the sailing area, courses were laid, mark handlers all over the place and after 2 or more hours finally we had a course and a race. It was a tough day in the heat, time to hit the clubhouse and a beer for all!

Day 3 – sea breeze! But not much. This time Ian headed the narrower estuary entrance. With 10-12 kn, the wind looked good but the tide was strong. BANG!!! Spectators on the beach took cover and the race was off, most taking a hard right off the committee boat seeking shelter from the tide. Local sailor Eric Evans took the pin end and hard left with 4-5 others. It was the right way to go with Eric taking pole position at the windward mark. Now the sailors had a real tidal challenge – left or right? The fleet split and the result was a good, close hiking race for all.

We had time for one last race… just. With a cut off time of 15.30 (warning signal) the race got underway with 5 minutes to spare - no time for a recall. We had 2 crew calling line calling plus 2 video cameras and a support boat calling the pin end. This had to go first time… No worries, the fleet were finally behaving!

The race however was full of wind holes and Flag N was at the ready but it stayed fair and even, so we eeked out 6 of the 8 scheduled races. Hopefully all were happy and the race crews and support boats returned to base, now a slick and well practiced team. Flags, guns, pin moving, new courses – we can take on any challenge! The A Team are now a fully qualified A+ team. Well done all.

Check out the Sailing Southwest website for race reports, photos, videos and more…

Blaze National Championships 2018 at North Devon Yacht Club

Blaze Nationals 2018
Blaze Nationals at Instow © Sailing Southwest


For 2018 the Blaze class visited the sunny Cornish town of Instow and its lovely sandy beach. 54 boats registered for the event that was kindly sponsored by Hartley BoatsAllen Brothers and Ocean Elements, with Sailing Southwest organising and running the event, including race tracking.

Day 1
The first day started overcast with an 8 to 12 mph breeze blowing offshore over Instow – nice and shifty! The first race started with the tide racing, resulting in the inevitable general recall. Many were thankful of the general recall as a couple of boats had clocked how port biased it had become in the final minutes leaving Martin Hattersley the opportunity of a beautiful port flyer. The restart got away cleanly under the 'u flag'. After two laps around a triangle course Chase Sailing Club looked good for a club 1,2, 3 finish with Charlie Chandler winning, Eden Hyland second and Josh Hyland third... only for Eden to have been 'u flagged' and on the whiteboard of doom along with several others – but it's always good to get your discard out of the way early on!

Blaze Nationals 2018
Blaze Nationals at Instow © Sailing Southwest

The second race was around a trapezium course, with the start being a bit easier to judge as the tide started to ease. Nick Ripley managed to escape the fleet and won the race with a huge lead followed home by Hugh Kingdom and Alex Walton.
As the water started to disappear with the tide rushing out to sea, the final race was held over a windward leeward course. This time Mike Lyons and Simon Beddows had a close race around the course, only for Simon to throw it away on the final beat to the finish when he sailed too close to the bank and hit the bottom. Eden managed to squeeze into second place at the end with Simon eventually third after his picnic stop up the bank.
At the end of day 1 it was a day of big scores and the need for consistency. Charlie lead overall followed by Alex and then Hugh. That evening North Devon Yacht Club put on a fantastic platter of food, and sponsored prizes were handed out as spot prizes throughout the fleet.

Day 2
The fleet was treated to a lovely tour around the harbour as the race team chased the breeze for two hours before finally settled enough to get one race in, probably sailed in a whole 5 mph of breeze.

Blaze Nationals 2018
Blaze Nationals at Instow © Sailing Southwest

The fleet can report that the water is very clear at Instow, you could see the bottom for most of the top half of the beat - which was slightly unnerving!
The race was around a windward leeward course which made the leeward gate very challenging with the tide flowing across the course at speed. Charlie took the win followed by Mike Lyons and Bob Cowan. Bob sailed a very brave second beat, splitting from most of the fleet and finding a way out of the tide allowing him to lead at the second windward mark having sailed around most of the fleet.
This left Charlie still in the overall lead at the end of day 2, with pulled Mike Lyons up to second overall and Simon Burrows third. Food that evening was a BBQ put on by the North Devon Yacht Club – team Chase left full, so there must have been a lot of food! Plus what a beautiful sunset we were treated to closeout the day - wow!

Day 3
Day 3 dawned with it all to play for, Charlie had been gradually edging into a commanding lead but the points were very close from second place onwards and with two races scheduled there was plenty of points up for grab.
The race team took the fleet out to the mouth of the estuary to race in a gentle sea breeze and a very fast flowing tide as it squeezed into the estuary. The question was which way to go up the beat, the majority of the fleet went right and there was a very close tacking battle up the bank with boats constantly crossing. 50 tacks just about got you to the windward mark. As the fleet closed in on the windward mark the fleet looked left and saw the lone boat out on the left bank sailed by Eric Evans who took a commanding lead round the windward – on the second beat most went left! At the finish line Andy McIvor led across the line followed by Eric and Ben Harden. Ben had sailed a very consistent weekend of top ten results with no big scores or letters and was starting to find real speed. Mike Lyons had pulled out during the second race and had returned ashore leaving the battle for second overall wide open.

Blaze Nationals 2018
Blaze Nationals at Instow © Sailing Southwest

In the final race it was team Birmingham Vs team Essex as Eden, Josh and Charlie (team Birmingham) raced Ben and Andy (team Essex) round the windward leeward course. It all came down to the final leeward mark where Charlie sailed round the earlier leaders to take the final race win followed by Eden and then Andy.
Overall Results: (top six)
1 – Charlie Chandler, 13pts
2 – Ben Harden, 24pts
3 – Andy McIvor, 26pts
4 – Eden Hyland, 34pts
5 – Josh Hyland, 36pts
6 – Hugh Kingdon, 39pts
Full results can be found here.

Blaze Nationals 2018
Blaze Nationals at Instow © Sailing Southwest

Thanks to all the sponsors and the organising team who put on a fantastic event, and we look forward to returning to the North Devon Yatch Club at Instow in future years.
Full racing tracking can be seen at
Further videos and photos can be seen on both the Sailing Southwest facebook group and the Blaze facebook group.